What exactly is stress, which we hear so much about? According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, stress is a response to a circumstance and has nothing to do with the event itself. When we believe that the demands of the circumstance outweigh our ability to handle it, we typically experience stress. For instance, someone who is secure in their abilities might not worry about giving a presentation, whereas someone who isn't may worry a lot about an impending presentation. Major life events like moving or changing jobs can be common sources of stress. Long-term concerns like parenting or chronic sickness can often feel burdensome. Even minor inconveniences like navigating the traffic can cause tension. from: Canadian Mental Health Association, ""Stress,"" 2018 When there is a tension between the expectations of the job and the level of control the person has over satisfying those demands, it can lead to negative physical and emotional reactions at work known as stress. Stress is generally a result of having a work with high demands and little control over the environment. Workplace stress can result from a variety of causes or from a single incident. Both employers and employees may be affected. It's generally accepted that some stress is healthy (also known as ""challenging"" or ""positive stress""), but when stress levels become too high, problems in both your mental and physical health may result.
I've heard that stress has both good and bad effects. Is this a fact?
The body's reaction to actual or perceived threats is stress. The majority of our problems nowadays cannot be resolved by using the fight-or-flight reaction. We must work through our issues and come up with wise solutions. Stress is a result of how individuals respond to their circumstances. Individual responses to these situations vary. It's normal to experience some stress, and it can even improve our life. In fact, it frequently gives us the drive and inspiration to tackle our daily obstacles at both home and work. Your ability to ""rise"" to a challenge and achieve your objectives, including as deadlines, sales or production targets, or acquiring new clients, depends on this type of stress response. Some individuals wouldn't classify this task as stress because we feel content and joyful after overcoming it. When people feel that the demands of a situation are higher than their capacity to handle them, their levels of negative stress typically rise. They may be less effective due to stress. Sometimes people choose to completely avoid a problem, which can worsen the situation and make them and others around them more stressed. Some people may find it difficult to focus, make judgments, and feel confident when under a lot of stress. Physical symptoms including perspiration, a pounding heart, or tense muscles are common. The long-term effects of stress on physical health are also possible. Stress is frequently accompanied by symptoms like headaches and exhaustion. People are also more prone to fall ill or have their health deteriorate.
What leads to job stress?
Stress at work can be brought on by a variety of factors. Every employee is an individual with a unique set of circumstances from their personal and professional lives that may affect how they respond to situations at work. However, it has been demonstrated that some aspects of workplaces can affect employees' perceptions of stress. Several instances include: Types of Workplace Stressors Some Illustrations of Stressors Workload for task design (overload and underload) sufficient time to do a task, variety, and meaning of the activity, as well as autonomy (e.g., the ability to make your own decisions about our own job or about specific tasks) shift Work/hours/skills/abilities don't fit job requirements lack of preparation or training (technical and social) Lack of appreciation and loneliness at work (emotional or working alone) Conflicting job expectations, having too many responsibilities, and having several managers and supervisors all play a part in an organization. ambiguous roles/uncertain job expectations (lack of clarity about responsibilities, expectations, etc.) degree of accountability Under- or over-promotion in career advancement job stability/uncertainty (fear of redundancy either from economy, or a lack of tasks or work to do) lack of chances for growth, promotion, or career development total fulfillment at work work relationships (Interpersonal) supervisors (conflicts or lack of support) (conflicts or lack of support) coworkers (conflicts or lack of support) (conflicts or lack of support) violence threats, harassment, etc (threats to personal safety) lack of faith absence of systems in the workplace to identify and address inappropriate behavior a bias or form of discrimination organizational design, culture, and management methodology participation (or non-participation) in decision-making communication patterns (poor communication / information flow) little recognition for good job performance lack of systems in workplace available to respond to concerns not engaging employees when undergoing organizational change lack of perceived fairness (who gets what when, and the processes through which decisions are made). Feelings of unfairness magnify the effects of perceived stress on health lack of support (such as family-friendly policies, employee assistance programs, etc.) Work-Life Balance role/responsibility conflicts family exposed to work-related hazards Workplace Conditions/ Concerns exposure to unpleasant conditions (e.g., crowding, smells, etc.) exposure to hazards (e.g., ergonomics, chemical, noise, air quality, temperature, etc.) Updated and Adapted from: Murphy, L. R., Occupational Stress Management: Current Status and Future Direction. in Trends in Organizational Behavior, 1995, Vol. 2, p. 1-14, and UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) """"Managing the causes of work-related stress: A step-by-step approach using the Management Standards"""", 2007.
Can stress negatively affect our health and safety?
Yes, stress can have an impact on your overall health. Our bodies are designed, pre-programmed if you wish, with a set of automatic responses to deal with stress. The problem is that our bodies deal with all types of stress in the same way. Experiencing stress for long periods of time (such as lower level but constant stressors at work) will activate this system, but it doesn't get the chance to """"turn off"""". Common effects of stress on the body include: headache muscle tension or pain chest pains increased heart rate and blood pressure weakened immune system fatigue / insomnia stomach and digestive issues high blood sugar increased cholesterol and fatty acids in blood for energy production systems Stress can also affect your mood or thinking by: increasing forgetfulness, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, defensiveness, mood swings, hypersensitivity, anger, etc. decreasing ability to think clearly or focus Stress can contribute to incidents because people often: sleep poorly self- or over-medicate themselves feel depressed feel anxious, jittery and nervous become angry and reckless (often due to a sense of unfairness or injustice) When people engage in these behaviours or are in these emotional states, they are more likely to: become momentarily (but dangerously) distracted feel withdrawn or isolated from others have outbursts, etc. neglect responsibilities make errors in judgment put their bodies under physical stress, increasing the potential for strains and sprains react poorly in normal activities that require hand-eye or foot-eye coordination Untreated long term (chronic) stress has been reported to be associated with health conditions such as: anxiety insomnia muscle pain high blood pressure weakened immune system heart disease depression obesity
What can employers do to address stress in their workplace?
There are many strategies that can help control stress and reduce its impact to a person or in the workplace. Since the causes of workplace stress vary greatly, so do the strategies to reduce or prevent it. Where stress in the workplace is caused, for example, by a physical agent, it is best to control it at its source. If the workplace is too loud, control measures to deal with the noise should be implemented where ever possible. If you are experiencing pain from repetitive strain, workstations can be re-designed to reduce repetitive and strenuous movements. More detailed information and suggestions are located in the many other documents in OSH Answers (such as noise, ergonomics, or violence and harassment in the workplace, etc.) or by asking the Inquiries Service. Job design is also an important factor. Good job design accommodates an employee's mental and physical abilities. In general, the following job design guidelines will help minimize or control workplace stress: the job should be reasonably demanding (but not based on """"sheer endurance"""") and provide the employee with at least a minimum of variety in job tasks the employee should be able to learn on the job and be allowed to continue to learn as their career progresses the job should comprise some area of decision-making that the individual can call his or her own. there should be some degree of social support and recognition in the workplace the employee should feel that the job leads to some sort of desirable future Employers should assess the workplace for the risk of stress. Look for: pressures at work which could cause high and/or long lasting levels of stress, and who may be harmed by these pressures. Determine what can be done to prevent the pressures from becoming negative stressors. Employers can address stress in many ways. DO Treat all employees in a fair and respectful manner. Take stress seriously and be understanding to staff under too much pressure. Be aware of the signs and symptoms that a person may be having trouble coping with stress. Involve employees in decision-making and allow for their input directly or through committees, etc. Encourage managers to have an understanding attitude. Be proactive by looking for signs of stress among their staff. Provide workplace health and wellness programs that target the true source of the stress. The source of stress at work can be from any number of causes – safety, ergonomics, job demands, etc. Survey the employees and ask them to help identify the root cause(s). Incorporate stress prevention or positive mental health promotion in policies or your corporate mission statement. Make sure staff has the training, skills and resources they need to be successful in their positions. Design jobs to allow for a balanced workload. Allow employees to have control over the tasks they do as much as possible. Value and recognize individuals' results and skills. Provide support. Be clear about job expectations. Make sure job demands are reasonable by providing manageable deadlines, hours of work, and clear duties as well as work that is interesting and varied. Provide access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for those who wish to attend. DO NOT Do not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form. Do not ignore signs that employees are under pressure or feeling stressed. Do not forget that elements of the workplace itself can be a cause of stress. Stress management training and counselling services can be helpful to individuals, but do not forget to look for the root cause of the stress and to address these causes as quickly as possible.
Is there anything I can do to help myself deal with the stress I am experiencing at work?
There are many ways to be proactive when dealing with stress. Mental fitness, self help, taking healthy steps, stress management training, and counselling services can be helpful to individuals, but do not forget to look for the root cause(s) of the stress and take steps to address them. However, in some cases, the origin of the stress is something that cannot be changed immediately. Therefore, finding ways to help maintain personal good mental health is also essential. Please see the OSH Answers on Mental Health – Dealing with Stress in the Workplace for more information.
Are there organizations that can help?*
Yes, there are many. Your family doctor can often recommend a professional for you. Other examples include the Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or associations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) or the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) to name just a few. EAP programs are confidential, short term, counselling services for employees with problems that affect their work performance. The services of EAP providers are often purchased by your company. Check with your human resources department (or equivalent) for contact information. CMHA's programs are meant to ensure that people whose mental health is endangered will find the help needed to cope with crisis, regain confidence, and return to community, family and job. The CCSA promotes informed debate on substance abuse issues, and disseminates information on the nature, and assists organizations involved in substance abuse treatment, prevention and educational programming. (*We have mentioned these organizations as a means of providing a potentially useful referral. You should contact the organization(s) directly for more information about their services. Please note that mention of these organizations does not represent a recommendation or endorsement by CCOHS of these organizations over others of which you may be aware.) For more information on mental health and workplace health, see the OSH Answers: Mental Health - Introduction Mental Health - Psychosocial Risk Factors in the Workplace Mental Health - How to Address and Support Mental Health - Dealing with Stress in the Workplace Workplace Health and Well-being - Comprehensive Workplace Health and Safety Program Mental Health - Having Courageous Conversations Mental Health - Addressing Conflicts"""